The legal department at the Ministry of Health has written the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard to take action against herbal practitioners who publicly advertise curing body illnesses.
On Thursday, Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan confirmed the move by his legal team, stating that "by now the DPP should have charged somebody...but we are hoping he gets around to it soon. The DPP will go after those making false claims, but we now have to take action on the Food and Drug Division to register the drugs before they can be sold."Asked if the ministry will soon crack down on unregulated herbal practitioners, Khan said, "I know you want me to say yes, we are trying to."
The letter was sent to Gaspard, Khan said, "a while aback."So far, Khan has received no feedback from the DPP, but promised that another letter will be dispatched to find out the cause of delay."It's taking too long for action. Herbal practitioners are like drug dealers. You take one out and ten will take their place."
Some advertisements claim to cure asthma, tuberculosis, cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and promote weight loss. Khan said the advertisements contravene the Consumer Protection and Safety Act, which provides the legislative basis for overall consumer protection.
Herbal drugs not regulated
Herbal drugs, Khan said, are not regulated under the law."What we are trying to do is bring them (herbalists) under that...the law."Last May, Independent Senator Subhas Ramkhelawan said the ministry needed to crack down on the unregulated herbal medicine industry.Ramkhelawan said consumers were being scammed by promises for cures of major diseases.
Unable to say how many herbal shops are in existence, Khan said there is a lot, with every "Tom, Dick and Harry selling the products which is now a thriving industry."Khan said because the Food and Drugs Act needs to be revised herbalists do what they please.He said labelling requirements for items under the act do not adequately protect consumers.
Khan described the situation as "serious and horrendous" since herbal practitioners have been "making false and spurious claims of curing all sorts of major illnesses."
An advertisement by Trevor Sayers of Naturalized Herbs placed in the T&T Business Directory of 2013 states "Help cure all body illnesses."While an April 4 classified ad in one daily newspaper by Mother Nature managed by Michael John wrote "All diseases can be healed."Mother Nature's Web site showed that herbal tablets are designed to remove all diseases.Khan said if people are inclined to believe in the tablets, which have no scientific proof, it tells we are highly gullible.
"People have to understand that is rubbish they are buying and what they are doing is subjecting their body's organs to all sorts of toxic reactions."Khan said many of the herbalists are clueless of the tablets' composition.He said the Food and Drug Administration had not approved these herbal medications and people would have to face their consequences.The minister said people have to take responsibility for their health.
Trinidade: Control needed
Dr Austin Trinidade, public relations officers of the T&T Medical Association, also intends to write the DPP by month's end, since they have been receiving complaints from medical practitioners about the effects herbal treatments were having on patients.On May 1, the association issued an advertisement advising the public that the title "doctor" before a person's name does not mean the individual is a medical practitioner.
They also reminded citizens that only medical practitioners registered with the Medical Board of T&T (MBTT) are licenced to diagnose and treat patients, since a number of people were offering spurious medical advice and dispending therapies of questionable value to the public.Trinidade said his letter would be the second in three years, since the MBTT had written Gaspard's predecessor.Though nothing was done, Trinidade said he felt compelled to ask the DPP to intervene.
Speaking at his San Fernando office on Wednesday, Trinidade said they had nothing against herbal medicine."In fact, a lot of our present medication has come from herbs. What we are against is their cure claims."Trinidade said the herbal shop operators have been hoodwinking patients into buying expensive therapies to cure a number of ailments. "They are preying on people's illnesses."
Trinidade agreed that the authorities have taken too long to act."We are not going to let it rest. There needs to be control. We don't want to put anyone out of business."Asked if the DPP fails to act what then, Trinidade replied, "What can I do? We can also write the Minister of Health."Trinidade said the MBTT has little power to prosecute herbalists who are not under its jurisdiction.He said he knows of one herbalist who uses the "doctor" title.
Even with modern therapies, Trinidade said doctors do not promise cures."We stabilise the patient's condition and treat them."Trinidade said doctors have noticed a trend in which patients would switch from prescribed medication to herbs."We feel what the herbs do is mask their results. So if you test your urine and blood it would not give the proper reading. People may feel good for a little while. It gives you this false sense of security that you have cured your disease. Most of these things have no therapeutic effect."
After time, Trinidade said, the patient's health starts to deteriorate and they return to their medical practitioner for help."That is what have been worrying us."
Health care system in a mess
As a watchdog for the public, Trinidade said people are turning to therapies because they are not getting full satisfaction from the health care system, which is in a mess.Trinidade said the operations of these businesses send a subliminal message that it was okay to seek medical help from herbal shops and gave room for others to come on board.Some of the natural herbs they offer, Trinidade said, are laxatives.
By law, Trinidade said, all drugs must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and their side effects known.He said herbal medicine has remained untouched because people see it as a food supplement and not a drug.At a meeting last week the issue was discussed by the association's 500 members, Trinidade said.
Sayers: They too farse...they can't stop herbal treatment
Trevor Sayers who opened 13 outlets of Naturalized Herbs defended his business on Thursday, stating that herbal remedies have been around longer than doctors.Sayers questioned if the authorities would go all out to stop pastors from healing people as well."Tell them I say how they too farse. And they can't do nothing...they can't stop herbal treatment. They have to go in the market and stop all the chive and celery."
Sayers described the medical profession as "phoney.""If you don't use herbs, you dead."Sayers in a Trinidad Guardian article written by Zahra Gordon last May, refused to show anyone his degree in natural medicine, telling them where he studied or with whom."If you understand what is the meaning of a doctor, it's someone who takes care of the sick. I also studied natural medicine all over the world," said Sayers.
When asked to specify locations, he simply repeated "all over the world."
John: Doctors threatened
Michael John who manages Mother Nature feels doctors are threatened by herbal treatments."They feel you threatening them. When somebody say they getting well, you think I does pay people to say those things. You think I could pay Indian people to lie for me and fool they own people."He said hundreds of people had sought treatment from him.
John said his tablets from China had no side effects and were cheaper than prescribed drugs.If a patient is targeting cancer, John said his/her week's supply of tablets would cost $295.He said a patient has to take six weeks of treatment "to get rid of cancer."If this was the direction the ministry intended to take, John said they also needed to crack down on drugstores as well.
John admitted that "plenty people" were selling herbs and other businesses were mushrooming."Look at how we are dying because of our diet and lifestyle?...look at the lawyers, doctors and politicians...look at their bellies, touching their throats?"The herbalist said he does not deter anyone from taking their prescribed medication.